Europe's royals are intriguing. Marie Antoinette was arguably doomed before she stepped a dainty foot in France and she didn't help herself.
A State Visit to London
The confident and affable King Alfonso XIII of Spain (1886-1941) paid a state visit to King Edward VII (1841-1910) in London in 1905. Alfonso had become king at his birth and he ruled in his own right from the age of sixteen. Rumours about his potential bride circulated for years.
At dinner one night during his stay Alfonso’s eyes fell on the eighteen-year-old, white, blonde-haired Ena, Princess Victoria Eugenie Julia Ena (1887-1969,) a niece of King Edward’s through his youngest sister Beatrice (1857-1944) and her late husband Prince Henry of Battenberg (1858-1896.)
A courtship began, although they were forced to communicate in French because Alfonso knew very little English and Ena could speak no Spanish. They got on well and over the following months, they exchanged letters, gifts and postcards as they grew to love one another.
Alfonso’s mother Queen Maria Christina (1858-1929) had to be persuaded to accept Ena. She was not keen on a protestant princess marrying into the family, preferring someone Catholic from her own Austrian Habsburg dynasty. She also thought that the Battenbergs were not of a high enough royal rank.
Ena agreed to convert to Catholicism and Edward VII elevated Ena from Her Highness to Her Royal Highness to help resolve the status issue. Alfonso was aware that Ena might carry the dreaded haemophilia gene but as it was not certain he saw no reason to end the relationship. Ena was reassuringly embraced and accepted by Queen Maria Christina when they met for the first time in Spain.
The engagement became official in late January 1906 in Biarritz but it was not announced to the Spanish public until Ena’s conversion to Catholicism was completed on the 7th March 1906.
The Royal Wedding Day
The sun shone optimistically as the bride awoke early on her wedding day. As tradition demanded she had slept at the Prado Palace, probably feeling self-conscious because she was under the constant surveillance of the Duke of Lecera, who was charged with keeping her safe until the ceremony. King Alfonso XIII wore an admiral’s uniform to travel by carriage to the palace where he and Ena took mass at 6:30.
Together, they proceeded to the Ministry of Marine where, in another traditional gesture, she was presented her wedding dress by her groom and she dressed for the ceremony. Her white satin and cloth of silver wedding dress had taken a team of forty seamstresses approximately sixty-five days to complete. Maria Christina placed the veil from her own wedding attire on Ena’s head. Her tiara, the Fleur-de-Lys Tiara was a gift from Alfonso. It has been worn by all subsequent Spanish queens. Alfonso switched from his admiral’s uniform to a Spanish Army field marshal's.
The Fairytale Becomes a Nightmare
They processed to the Royal Monastery of San Jeronimo with the cheers of the crowds ringing in their ears. Ena glided down the aisle at 11:15 a.m. The wedding ceremony and nuptial mass went well and were conducted by Cardinal Sancha, the Bishop of Toledo. At midday, the couple appeared at the door, happily married.
In England Edward VII had arranged for the St. George’s Chapel, Windsor bells to ring at midday in their honour. The Madrid streets were thick with people who were excited to see Ena waving and smiling to their cries of “Viva la Reina.” Alfonso and Ena climbed into their eight-horse-drawn carriage to make the journey to the royal palace.
A Catalan-based anarchist named Mateu Morral Roca (1879-1906) threw a bouquet from an upper balcony of an inn on a main thoroughfare called Calle Mayor. The bouquet concealed a bomb that exploded to the couple’s front right between the last pair of horses and the carriage and it momentarily blinded them with its intensity.
Screams filled the air. More than twenty people were killed, a hundred or so were injured. Two of the horses were killed and the carriage was severely damaged. The king and his new wife checked that the other was unharmed and Alfonso later recalled that Ena had shifted in her seat and was leaning into him so that she could wave at the crowds to her left after looking right for part of the journey.
This probably saved her from great injury. The guardsman who had been riding at her right side was decapitated by the blast and his blood was splattered over her wedding dress. Other royals, including the future King George V and Queen Mary, then the Prince and Princess of Wales, had travelled to the palace ahead of the bride and groom and were safe. Some guests were less fortunate, the Marchioness of Colosa and her teenage daughter were among the dead.
Royal Duty First
The couple resolved, bravely, to show the serenity of royalty in the face of terrorism. They changed to another carriage, the Carriage of Respect, and wove their way through the bodies as rescue efforts began in the streets. Staff from the British Embassy formed a protective guard around the carriage as it proceeded to the palace. The wedding breakfast went ahead but it was understandably a subdued affair.
The next day Alfonso and Ena visited the injured at the hospital. As they rode in their carriage Ena fleetingly shrank back in her seat, evidently in fear of another bomb attack but she recovered her nerves and was quick to reassure her subjects that they, and the royals, were perfectly safe. The couple’s choice to not travel with a guard and to interact with the people earned them admiration and increased their popularity.
Mateu Morral Roca's Controversial End
Mateu Morral Roca was hidden by a sympathetic journalist at first but when Roca left Madrid to take refuge in a more rural area he was recognised by the villagers. He was duly arrested on the 2nd June 1906. The official record shows that he shot a policeman and then killed himself on that day. However, there has always been a suspicion that the anarchist did not die by his own hand because analysis of the wound raises questions about the proximity of the gun that shot him.
Unhappy Ever After
The royal couple went on to have six children, the eldest boy Alfonsito suffered from haemophilia as did his younger brother Gonzalo. The second-born son Jaime was deaf. Alfonso never quite forgave Ena for delivering haemophilia into the Spanish royal bloodline despite his earlier lack of concern about the possibility. A rift between the couple eventually led to separation. He had several mistresses and six illegitimate offspring from 1914. The Spanish monarchy fell in 1931. Alfonso died in 1941 in exile in Rome. Ena chose to live in Lausanne, Switzerland and survived until April 1969.
- The Wedding of King Alfonso XIII of Spain - Royalty Magazine
- King Alfonso XIII of Spain and Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg - History of Royal Women
- Wedding of King Alfonso XIII of Spain and Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg | Unofficial Royal
© 2021 Joanne Hayle
Joanne Hayle (author) from Wiltshire, U.K. on September 20, 2021:
Thanks for reading,,,Appreciate it, and the comment:-)
fran rooks from Toledo, Ohio on September 18, 2021:
Joanne, another article which was new to me. A tragic story especially with her being a carrier of hemophilia trait affecting their children, and resulting with their separation. Thank you for your story.